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Books

“The Slide” chronicles the tough years of the Pittsburgh Pirates

For some locals, October 17, 1979 was the date parents all over southwestern PA let their kids stay up late. That night baseball fans young and old got to witness Willie “Pops” Stargell homering against the Baltimore Orioles, propelling the Pittsburgh Pirates to their most-recent World Series title. The sound of pots and pans being …

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Aaron Smith Takes on Big Issues in Readable “Primer”

Dualism, a philosophical concept, asks thinkers to consider the relationship between mind and body, often leading to inquiries such as: What is the self? What is consciousness? Do the physical and mental influence one another? Plato and Aristotle pondered the topic centuries ago, their questions often leading to more questions as humans continue to be …

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Summer Reading List

The forces of the universe have a dark sense of humor. Just weeks before the publication of The Schenley Experiment, Jake Oresick’s revealing history of Pittsburgh’s first public high school, PMC Property Group began to advertise Schenley Apartments, which occupy the former school. “A truly unique historic property modernized to exceed your expectations,” the website …

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Short Takes: “Leave Me” “Perpetual Carnival”

Pittsburghers could read “Leave Me” for the same reasons they’d see a movie filmed and set here. It’s a kick to see the city as a backdrop, collecting references to your favorite coffee shop (Commonplace in Squirrel Hill), local slogans (“I Bleed Black and Gold”) and outright praise (“she stared out the window at the …

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A Well-Woven Contemporary Tale

For his second act, Pittsburgh novelist Jacob Bacharach has turned in another work of enormously entertaining literary fiction set in Pittsburgh. It’s less cosmic than his debut, the 2014 sci-fi sendup “A Bend in the World,” but equally peppered with highbrow cultural references, trenchant social observations and turns of phrase that spin you right up …

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Setting the Steelers Standards

Growing up in a local mill town in the late 1970’s, Steelers’ Super Bowl victories seemed like a birthright. For my generation, it takes little to rattle-off the roster from the ‘79 season, the last of that era’s championship teams. And while the exploits of future Hall-of-Famers Lynn Swann and Jack Lambert live on in …

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Six Books for Your Winter Reading List

This issue, we take up half-a-dozen new books in three groupings: literary works from two creative writing teachers, Pittsburgh sports history from two prominent national writers, and the latest from two great local legal minds. Don’t be surprised if that next national media story about the resurgent charms of Pittsburgh works in a reference to …

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Drue Heinz winner brings humanity to adversity

When Melissa Yancy describes aspects of facial reconstructions, fetal surgery and kidney transplants in her short-story collection Dog Years (University of Pittsburgh Press), she writes knowingly, not gratuitously. The 2016 Drue Heinz Award winner and Phoenix native, comes honestly to this perspective as a fundraiser advocating for health-care causes. And while several of her stories …

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The Challenge of Fighting Back

Reading the latest novel by Stewart O’Nan, the Pittsburgh-born writer who boomeranged home several years ago, is like watching the performance of an experienced athlete who makes it all look so easy. “City of Secrets” is his 16th novel since 1994, and the first to take place entirely outside of the USA. Like 2015’s “West …

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Short Takes: “Whiskey, Etc.” “Death by Cyanide”

Sherrie Flick’s latest collection is described as “short (short) stories”—that parenthetical “short” preparing you for one page tales, even one-paragraph blasts. Scholars of marketing might see this as evidence that fiction creators are getting with the short-attention span condition of the modern consumer, offering an efficient product that can be noshed like a meal replacement …

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Going Back in Time to Ambridge

Growing up in the early ‘80’s as a native-son of a local borough named after a steel-magnate, it’s easy to recall how mill closings affected my hometown. Layoffs were followed by hushed talk of unemployment checks, and later on, businesses shuttered leading to diaspora when folks looked to start fresh elsewhere. In a swath of …

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A Window Into the Marcellus

“Heat and Light,” the latest novel from western Pennsylvania native Jennifer Haigh, has tandem virtues. It possesses not only the urgent feel of a story “ripped from the headlines,” as they say, but also the grace and insight of American literary fiction for the ages. The Marcellus Shale boom in Pennsylvania has been examined at …

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Neither, Either, Or

If you want to explore the vexing subject of global climate change, Seamus McGraw is the guy to have as a tour guide. He will not torture your brain with elaborate science, tax your patience with lectures about evil consumer habits, or bash you over the head with partisan arguments. Instead, he takes you to …

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4 reads for the Pittsburgh winter

Theresa Brown, a nurse from Point Breeze, is already nationally known for her 2010 nursing memoir “Critical Care” and years of writing online for The New York Times about her profession. Brown’s new book, “The Shift,” should cement her reputation as a reliable and compassionate explainer of modern American heath care for the general public. …

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The long way home

Lori Jakiela has the essential quality for a memoirist with a tale of trauma to tell: empathy for the reader. She makes her anguish entertaining. But based on the engaging voice, underlying humor and clarity of her adoption memoir “Belief Is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe,” I bet she would do the same for …

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Imagination Motel: Pomes With Many Bags of Buttered Popcorn and Big Pepsis

The word “legendary” was built for Chuck Kinder. The heart and soul of the University of Pittsburgh writing program for years, he entered legend as the inspiration for the main character of “Wonder Boys,” the hit novel by his former student Michael Chabon. He fulfills the legend of the novelist with the story so big …

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Timeless & Unremembered

Gladys Schmitt is a wonderful Pittsburgh writer you have probably not read. If so, the time has come for that to change. “The Collected Stories of Gladys Schmitt,” assembled with care by Carnegie Mellon University Press, presents 20 stories that she published in popular and literary journals, mainly between the early 1930s and late 1950s. …

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The Fading Light

Stewart O’Nan’s novel “West of Sunset,” based on the final tragic years of F. Scott Fitzgerald in Hollywood, took some nerve to write. Would you like to get into the ring with one of the greatest figures in American literature and try to describe what’s going on in his alcoholic head and distressed heart? But …

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The road back

Jennifer Matesa, a writer living in Friendship, was a well-dressed, middle-class junkie. She didn’t score from shady dealers in back alleys, though. Her supplier was the pharmaceutical industry. Starting about 10 years ago, this self-described “white soccer mom” got hooked on pain-killers after seeking legitimate treatment for chronic pain. Vulnerable from a family history of …

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Apocalypse Pittsburgh

Pittsburghers have long boasted that, in the heat of the Cold War, our role as an industrial power made us the Russians’ No. 1 nuclear target. It was a counterweight to our role as a national punchline for being a sooty dump. Thomas Sweterlitsch is not a Pittsburgh native, but he must have absorbed this …

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Bend of the ‘burgh

Pittsburgh has enjoyed some nice national media buzz in recent years. We’re so livable, we’re hipper than Portland, we’re the next foodie destination. But Pittsburgher Jacob Bacharach’s debut novel could blast the city’s profile into an otherworldly dimension. “The Bend of the World”—a highly enjoyable comedy of modern manners—imagines our cozy town as the fulcrum …

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The working man novelist

Dave Newman is a hard-working and funny writer who embodies an everyman Pittsburgh spirit with all of his ample heart. His latest novels—the brand-new “Two Small Birds” and “Raymond Carver Will Not Raise Our Children” (2012)—show him succeeding at the goal which his autobiographical protagonist, Dan Charles, declares at one of the many turning points …

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